"In a generation where 2D games belong to Gameboys, DSs and PSPs, itís always nice and refreshing to see a 2D game on a home console. After making an attempt at 3D gaming (and failing horribly), Contra returns to form in Shattered Soldier. Taking notes from Contra on the NES, Super C and other 2D Contra games, Shattered Soldier also hits the nail on the head, with a wide array of weapons and controller throwing difficulty. Ladies and gentlemen, our bad boy is back. "
In a generation where 2D games belong to Gameboys, DSs and PSPs, itís always nice and refreshing to see a 2D game on a home console. After making an attempt at 3D gaming (and failing horribly), Contra returns to form in Shattered Soldier. Taking notes from Contra on the NES, Super C and other 2D Contra games, Shattered Soldier also hits the nail on the head, with a wide array of weapons and controller throwing difficulty. Ladies and gentlemen, our bad boy is back.
The Contra games run on a relatively simple concept: shoot everything thatís bad and donít get shot yourself. It also gives you no health to speak of; take one shot, and you bite the dirt. Itís this old-school shooter gameplay that fuels Shattered Soldier and allows it to succeed. Shattered Soldier will be instantly familiar with Contra veterans as the menus share a resemblance to the menus of yore, as do the sounds and feel. Youíre immediately given four levels to select from, and it doesnít really matter as to which one you do first, though they are numbered, so you can follow that if you insist. Once you select your level, youíll be thrown right into the action. You move immediately to your right - the same direction youíll be following throughout the vast majority of the game - and youíll quickly come into contact with a seemingly endless swarm of bad guy after bad guy after bad guy. Your options as to what to do are limited: shoot, jump, crouch to the ground, lie flat. However, itís not so much how you control yourself and utilize these abilities that makes the game fun; rather, itís dodging the enemyís bullets with your twitch reflexes without realizing what youíre utilizing.
The gameís three weapons come in two fire modes, and all must be used in order to conquer the game (realistically speaking for the average gamer; Iím sure a hard-core Contra nut could beat the game with a single gun). Available is the Heavy Machinegun, the Fire Whip and the Diver Mine using Normal Shot, or Round Sweep, Energy Shot and Homing Missile using Charge Shot. Oddly missing is the series favorite spread gun, which fires bullets that spread much like a shotgunís. Each gun has a unique rate of fire; the Fire Whip, for example, works much like a flamethrower, whereas the Heavy Machine gun works as a typical rapid-fire weapon.
Accompanying the guns are the beautiful graphics which present them. Dark, demolished and dirty cities to run through, snowy hills to slide down and complicated bridges over a blue lake of water to travel upon. Contra offers a wide variety of areas for mayhem. Its suped-up, realistically detailed graphics that capture the feel of each area very successfully most definitely help immerse you in the experience. Most of the time you know that some sort of war has been raging on, thanks to the gritty haphazard blocks of cement that were once roads that lead you through the industrial landscapes. Other times the levels change into a much more science fiction setting, or even laid back; the previously mentioned snowy mountain portion is a hoot. It all comes together well to enhance the experience.
Shattered Soldier is a short game by nature, but it validates multiple play-throughs thanks to several things. First off, thereís the gameís ranking system, which gives you a letter to signify how well you did on a particular level. The letter is based off of the percentage thatís displayed on top of the gameplay screen, which represents your hit rate. Using continues and losing lives dock extra percentages off the overall percentage, and then a score is calculated. Hard-core gamers will no doubt want to plow through each level on the hardest difficulty aiming to capture 100%, possibly even as fast as possible.
Secondly, thereís the gameís wonderfully functional co-op mode that really squeezes the enjoyment out of the title. Two at the same screen, plowing through the same enemies, working together to defeat that tough-as-nails boss just around the corner. When thereís two at it, you can loosen up on the dedication a little bit and focus some on strategy: say one guy covers the back and one covers the front, or during a boss fight each player can take out a certain point of the boss to drain its health quicker. This makes the run shorter, but the fun you get out of it is that much sweeter.
Thirdly, and finally, thereís the unlockable extras. The game offers several items that you can open up by meeting certain conditions during gameplay that the game sets. These items vary in importance and meaning.
These three things will bring you back to the controller, but it wonít hold you there forever. Shattered Soldier wonít last anyone other than the hard-core longer than a couple days. The more dedicated will continually come back trying to better themselves by beating it faster while scoring 100%, or some other such goal, but the simplicity of the title really makes it difficult to hold onto for long if you donít dig this style of game over, say, Goldeneye 64 or Perfect Dark Zero. Even the recent Alien Hominid had more to offer in the form of PDA games, and a custom level editor.
Tying everything the game offers together is a haphazard story that you really shouldnít care for. It involves some guy who supposedly died but didnít really die, and his plans for domination or killing some other guy or something along those lines. Itís a typical revenge story that really wasnít needed, and one that plagues the game with itís cut-scenes. You can watch them if you want, but the good storytelling and compelling characters are not there. And really, if you need to rely on a story to fuel your need to shoot up the gameís enemies, this game isnít for you.
That said, Shattered Soldier succeeds as both a retro shooter and a solid game. You wonít find anything terribly different from the past 2D carnations of Contra, but thatís a good thing in this case. Itís short, itís tough, and itís old-school. Itís something the industry needs to produce more of.
Community review by hex (February 02, 2006)
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